PROVOCATIVE QUESTION – CONTROLLING OUR LIVES – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #40

And so the question is:

Control is an illusion. It’s what we all believe we’ve got until our life takes a sharp turn and hits a big rock or slides into the ditch. Crash.

All of your firm beliefs that nothing can stop you doesn’t help because there are things — many things — that can stop you.

I love when people tell me nothing can stop them, that whatever they want, they can get it. All they have to do is want it enough. I don’t argue with people who talk like that. They believe it and who am I to argue?

I’ve hit a lot of rocks, ditches, sharp turns. I’ve had my “life vehicle” battered to wreckage. I learned, painfully and slowly there is a time to put down the reins, look in the mirror and face reality. Even when it isn’t what you want.  There comes a time to give up trying to control your world and go with the flow. To find a better path.

Your perfect, beautifully controlled life can turn upside-down in a split second. For others, it’s slower. For me, it was at the pace at which bones and joints calcify. I refused to pay attention to the wreckage of my spine. It was mind over matter. I was strong. I could make it work, no matter what.

Good idea. But mind-over-matter only takes you so far. Major life changes do not happen in an afternoon. True they can occur in one messy crash … or they can take over bit by bit over decades. I found a great doctor who told me something I had heard before but had hoped there was another answer.

He said: “Your back has got you through this far. It’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise. Recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid. No car crashes. No falling. No lifting.”

No horses, no hauling. Got that. And of course, this was before all the heart surgery, which further eliminated the likelihood of any of these perilous activities. So. I’m not doing anything stupid.

Okay, I’m not doing anything very stupid. Maybe only a little stupid. And nothing that will break anything that isn’t already broken.

There’s no moral to this story. It’s life. If you don’t die young, you will get old. Which means unless you are exceptionally lucky, parts of you will hurt. Whether or not you are in a position to help fix the hurt with surgery, exercise, physical therapy, or medication? It depends on what’s wrong.

The only thing you cannot plan is a life over which you maintain full control. No one gets that.

We all have some control, but ultimately, no one has full control. Ever.

When life throws you a curve, you have a choice. Spend your time fighting for something you can’t be or do — or with a bit of grace, find your way to being whoever you are now, in this time and place.

Not winning all the battles doesn’t have to be tragic. That is where you have some control. You can view changes as a challenge or as a catastrophe. How you see them is up to you. Pretending they aren’t there can be calamitous.

Reality is not the worst place to live. Life is full of weirdness, lies, and illusion, but going face-to-face with the truth can be uplifting. You don’t have to give up living. You do have to learn to live a life that works. For you.

RIDING IT OUT – Marilyn Armstrong

For almost two years, I’ve barely used the chair lift. I was glad it was there and it was useful for hauling groceries and suitcases upstairs and that was good for both of us. But lately, I’ve started using it. I realized there was absolutely nothing to be gained by dragging myself up two staircases, gasping, wheezing, with heart pounding.

Although I can —  and do — get up and down the stairs, it’s slow and getting slower. It’s more than a bit nerve-wracking too. It takes me a while to take that first downward step (up is easier) and I’m always sure I’m going to fall. I have fallen a lot over the years, including when I was younger. I can’t seem to find my balance going down.

One step at a time and carrying packages, stairs are impossible and dangerous. Riding up and down the stairs takes the fear and pain out of the process of getting in and out of the house. I’m okay walking on the sidewalk and the floors, but the stairs put such a strain on my lower spine and hips, I went from feeling okay to feeling ready to collapse.

It was time to actually use the chair lift.

Not only is it a way to get upstairs not on my feet, but it ‘s also possible to get someone in a wheelchair into the house and up to our living level. Before that, we’ve had to tell anyone with disabilities that our house was unready for them.

I reached the end of assuming that I’m going to get better and the stairs won’t be as difficult. Asthma is worse, probably because it’s untreated and my spine is worse, especially at the S1 juncture which was never fused — unlike the three discs above it. The pressure on the spinal cord is serious and unlikely to improve. There’s no exercise that will improve it.

It’s my final nod to the realities of my life, the “giving in” to the pain as something that won’t get better. The new drugs I’m taking help quite a bit — as long as I walk on relatively flat ground. I can climb a little bit if I am very careful. I can cook and clean in the house and if the ground is not rough, I’m mobile. To a point.

When I’m tired, I have to take it seriously. I need to stop and rest. When I do that, I don’t fall apart and I stay reasonably well. No amount of goodwill, determination, or optimism will change the condition of my spine. I think not hauling myself up and downstairs will probably marginally improve my mobility.

I cannot begin to tell you how much this isn’t what I envisioned for my life as a senior. I was planning to be a dashing senior. Like in the movies. Gray and wise, but ready to do it all.

Sometimes giving in is the right thing to do. I wanted to force myself to be that snazzy senior I imagined. Overall, I think it’s better if I stay alive and able to move!

PEAK PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #31 – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #31

Thirty-one is one of my “lucky numbers.” I’ve lived in houses numbered 31 twice, won prizes for number 31 (a TV and a long weekend in New York city including a visit to the (then) brand new Yankee Stadium) and more.

I don’t have a follow-up to this comment. That’s the whole story.

Recently we’ve been watching that 15-year-old tennis whiz kid. I got to thinking: “What if you are the biggest and best at whatever you do when you are 14 or 15? When you are the best tennis player ever especially if you are merely 15, or you are the best baton twirler on earth at 14? Where do you go after that? Is it all downhill?”

This question first occurred to me when I watched the baton twirler on television maybe ten years ago and I was thinking “This is her peak moment and it’s all downhill from here.”

I suspect this may be part of the problem with child stars. They grow up. Their best years are behind them and a lot of them don’t work much after they complete their teen years.

I don’t think I’ve had a peak year yet. Maybe I never will. I’ve had great moments. I’ve had joyful moments, little thrilling times. I’ve had a couple of really great years, breathtaking visual and emotional moments … but nothing I would call “the peak.”

I’m not sure there will be a peak. Good years, bad years, terrific years, historic years … but peak? Life is a series of peaks and valleys, dips and mountains.

That’s fine with me.

HOW GO YOUR YEARS? – Marilyn Armstrong

When I was in college, two of the women with whom I became friends were suicides. Neither of them was happy, but I would never have guessed either of them was suicidal.

One of them was just 19 when she killed herself. The other was 21.

For this reason, I have never assumed “everything is fine” for anyone. Even when you ask, you will only know what you are told and that is rarely the entire truth. People are secretive about their deepest fears and thoughts.

“How are you?”

“Everything is fine.”

“You don’t sound fine.”

“No, really. I’m fine.”

How many times can you ask before you realize you aren’t going to discover more? When people mention that aging makes them “think about mortality” I realize I began thinking about mortality when Karin died and then again when Anna jumped. Also when a young couple, just married, crashed their car into a truck and died on the highway.

Yet again, when my first husband got kidney cancer at 34 and lived, but still died young of heart disease and medical errors. Then my brother died of pancreatic cancer at 61. One of Garry’s colleagues — in her early 40s — died while waiting for a bus in Cambridge. When my first husband’s father died of his second heart attack at 52, I was pregnant and sorry he never met his grandson. For that matter, Jeff died at 53 and never met his granddaughter.

I knew a young person who died of a heart attack before age 21. Another internet friend, Rosa, died last year of a heart attack. I only found out when her mother called to tell me. She wasn’t yet 35.

And of course, there are all the friends our age who are battling cancer, dementia, heart conditions, not to mention the ones who have “beaten” cancer, but of course, you never really beat cancer. You are remitted and that will have to do.

When people complain about not being as active as they were when they were many years younger, I think they are missing the point. Age or disease can do you in at any point in your life. You don’t have to get old. You can be 21, an athlete, and collapse on the court.

The Dark Lord will have his way. When and how it hits you is partly how you used your body and your DNA. Depending on your constitution, your ability to walk, run, ride, or whatever you do may be compromised. Even eliminated.

Then again, are you breathing on your own? Do you get out of bed in the morning, even if it is a struggle? Do you find joy in your life? Do you laugh? Are there people you love who also love you? Is life interesting? Are you still curious to know what’s going to happen?

If any of these things are true, yay for you. You are alive.

Mortality is always with us, whether we are old or young. We may not be paying attention to it, or we may be under some delusion that we are exempt from “the end” because we exercise and eat right. But there will be an end.

Maybe, as Jeff used it say, it’ll be a runaway beer truck. Or something unexpectedly medical. It may be tomorrow or in 60 years. Whatever time you have, be gracious and grateful. Many people don’t get a life full of years. Others get the years and manage to be miserable anyway.

Enjoy your years, however many you have. And while you are at it, be nice to the people you know and especially those who love you and who you love. Kindness is the least expensive and most valuable gift we have to give.

IMMORTALITY AND AGING – Marilyn Armstrong

I am not sure I ever believed I was immortal, most likely because I didn’t think about it. Until sometime during college, when my various courses forced me to ponder the nature of life and death. College was the peak time for existential mental muck-raking. Being young makes these subjects philosophical.

Was this the result of too many hallucinogenic drugs? No. It was the lectures and classes. It was the books. Too many books.

College can’t hurt you if all you do is hang out on the quad or wander around looking for a bridge game where they need a fourth. I actually went to class.

I took courses like  “The Philosophy of Religion” and “Phenomenology.”

I always had a steady list of existential books I needed to read for classes, in English and French. Sartre, Camus, Lawrence Durrell, et al.

It was deep stuff and is the literature I won’t read today.

That this hyper-intellectual phase of my life coincided nicely with my first actual near-death experience was pure chance. It cured me of pondering the meaning of life and death and aimed me more in the direction of staying alive.

Nothing is more aggravating than college students pondering the philosophical meaning of death who suddenly make a realization.

“Hey, I could really DIE.”

It takes the fun and philosophy out of the experience and adds a hard edge of fear. I’m pretty sure we all thought we were smart and had a solid grip on the life and death stuff.

I was so wrong.

As I got older, I knew people who died. There was nothing philosophical about it. A couple of suicidal friends. Aging family members. The odd car skidding down the edge of a mountain.

Now that I’m a senior citizen, I know I’m very mortal. One of these days, it will be a certainty.

I’ll get back to you on that.

PROVOCATIVE QUESTION: WHAT ABOUT PREDESTINATION? – Marilyn Armstrong

This week’s provocative question is a spinoff of a question that Melanie (Sparks From a Combustible Mind) asked in her last Share Your World post.

That question from Melanie got me thinking about fate and predestination. So here’s this week’s provocative question.

I’m not entirely sure what “predestination” means. By this do you mean a rigid “ending” that you can’t change, no matter what? Because I don’t believe in that.

I think we end up where we are supposed to be. I don’t think it’s a rigid, unchanging finish. I think it is flexible and will change depending on the choices we make. But there’s a likely place we will probably land.

I don’t believe in a frozen, unbending future. More like a conclusion based on our intelligence, status, birthplace, education … and the things to which we are attracted and choose along our path as well as the kind of people to whom we are attracted.

This is how I like to describe it.

Life is like a bus trip, except you don’t know where you are going and you can’t drive the bus. No ticket, no map.

You will meet other travelers on the bus. Some will be your friends and maybe lovers and mates. They enter the bus at various stops and get off where they must. You may not be happy about it.

The bus will sometimes stop and give you the chance to visit and enjoy the scenery, but eventually, you’ll have to get back on the bus.

You still won’t have any idea where the bus is going and you still can’t drive. Sometimes, the road will be very rough and treacherous. Other times, the road will be smooth and the scenery beautiful. When all is smooth and lovely, you may think you’ve got everything under control.

You will never have everything under control. You never know when the bus will take a sudden turn or for that matter, drive off a bridge.

Life will take you where it takes you.

I don’t know what, if anything, God has to do with it. Maybe something. Maybe nothing. I have no idea. But if prayer makes you feel better, I say go for it. Because whatever makes you feel better — especially if it costs nothing — is worth doing.

STRANDED ON A DESERT ISLAND? – Rich Paschall

The “What Ifs” of Life, by Rich Paschall

Certainly, you have seen some of the various questions surrounding you being stranded on a desert island.  If you were stranded, who would you like to be with?  What 5 things would you take along?  What 5 things that you have now could you do without?  What one album would you take?  What electronic device would you need?  This assumes you would not run out of batteries I guess.

These, and questions like them, present interesting challenges to a person that they may not consider otherwise.  Who is the most important person in your life?  Is that the one you want by your side?  Perhaps you would rather have someone with survival skills.  Perhaps you would not want the other to be stranded too.  Perhaps you would rather be alone.

What 5 things would you take along?  This really calls for creative thinking.  You may consider clothes, but do you need more than you are wearing?  You might consider your music, but would that come ahead of other basic needs.  Perhaps you are one that considers music a basic need.  I know those type of people.

Birdie Beach

Would you think of camping supplies?  If you are not already a camper or outdoors person, would any of that mean anything to you.  I guess you could be clever and say you need a lifetime supply of canned goods, but then don’t forget the can opener.  Or something to start a fire.  I have heard all my life that you can start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, but I have never seen anyone actually do it.  Can you?  If so, you may be on my stranded island list.

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Would you consider tools to build a shelter?  Just exactly how handy are you and what kind of tools would be suited to your skills?  I guess an ax could serve many useful purposes.  Did you have it on your list?  Did you add a hammer?  You may not need it if you have an ax.  A knife? A pick?  A power drill?  Oops, no power.

Let’s say you had an electric device whose battery was solar-powered or recharged.  What then would you take along?  I think you will not get the internet, although some day you may get that from just about anywhere.  What will you do on your island in the meantime?

Sunrise Strider

If you could take just one album, what would it be?  This is a hard one for me.  When I get an album I like, I can play it over and over, but I do get tired of it eventually and put it on a shelf.  I guess I would pick someone’s greatest hits album, but whose?

Let’s forget about the desert island for a moment and bring you back home.  What if you had just one day to live?  What would you do?  Who would you see?  What would you say?

The “one day to live” scenario is thrown out there on social media and elsewhere about as often as the desert island scenarios.  It is even more challenging as people think of all the things they were going to do but never got around to it.  The long trips are out.  The classes to learn some skill are out.

So we may be left with planning a last meal.  Are we making this feast or heading to a favorite restaurant?  Perhaps it is neither, as we go to someplace we have never tried before.  I hear there is a new French restaurant in town.  Maybe I want to go there.

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Are there people to whom you absolutely must say something?  Do you need to say good-bye to someone?  Do you need to tell someone you love him or her?  Do you need to apologize for something that happened in the past?  With a limited amount of time, which people are on the list for final conversations?

The 24-hour time frame automatically eliminates a lot of possibilities.  Would you watch a movie, go to a show, see a play?  Those all seem like such poor use of precious hours to me.

Would you go to an expensive concert if you had tickets, or would the expense no longer matter?  Perhaps you should give them away and do something else.  Would you watch television, YouTube videos, surf the internet?  I guess those practices would begin to seem like quite the waste when “the days (or hours) dwindle down to a precious few.”

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What if we lived our lives like only a few things were really important?  What if we lived our lives like there was only a day left, even if there were 25 thousand days left?  Wouldn’t it be richer and more meaningful?

There is nothing wrong with looking down the road, but too many of us are not living for today.  That is why those stranded island and one day to live scenarios are so scary.  They immediately call to mind all the things we missed out on in life and can not go back to fix.

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When you are left on an island or reach the final day, make sure you did what you wanted and needed to do.  That you respected everyone.  That you told people you loved them, so you don’t leave with regrets.

Be sure that you mended fences in case there is no time later to do it.  If you do this, the one day to live challenges on social media might not be so scary.  By the way, if you are stranded on a desert island, it helps to have a volleyball named Wilson.